Egypt arrests 'Hezbollah agents'

About 50 people being questioned over belonging to Hezbollah and aiding Hamas.

    Egypt is sensitive to Hezbollah and Hamas' attempts to increase their regional influence [EPA]

    The prosecutor's office said that individuals had tried to monitor Egypt's Suez Canal, its border with the Gaza Strip, and tourist installations in the Sinai Peninsula on behalf of Hezbollah.

    The arrests mark the first time that individuals have been charged with belonging to Hezbollah, the Shia group that effectively controls parts of southern Lebanon and Beirut, the capital.

    The Lebanese group late last year accused Egypt of being complicit in Israel's 22-day war on Gaza, in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed. The claim was angrily rejected by Cairo.

    'Denied access'

    The public proescutor's statement comes a day after a lawyer for Hezbollah said that a group of Egyptians, Palestinians and Lebanese had been held in Egypt since mid-December on suspicion of supplying money to Palestinian Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

    One Lebanese man is also accused of acting as a go-between for Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Montasser al-Zayat, the defendants' lawyer, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that he was notified of the arrests after receiving a phone call from the family of Hani Sami Shihab, one of the detainees, saying that he had been taken by security forces but not told of the charges against them.

    "I began to follow up the case in which seven of the 1948-Arabs [Palestinian Israelis] were arrested. Then information followed [of] Egyptian young men on charges of supporting members of Hezbollah to deliver aid and funds to Hamas and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip," al-Zayat said.

    He added that the group included seven Palestinians and three Lebanese.

    Individuals who remained in Israeli territory after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and their offspring, who hold Israeli citizenship are sometimes referred to as 1948-Arabs.

    Hezbollah resistance

    Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said that Hezbollah had not denied or confirmed the allegations.

    "However, supporters of the group that we spoke to have said that the claims have been fabricated and are politically motivated by Egypt after Hezbollah criticised the Egyptian government for its position during the war on Gaza," she said.

    But while the Lebanese group has not answered the claim that it has funnelled money through intermediaries to Hamas in Gaza, such a move would not be outside the terms of Hezbollah's strategy to resist Israel. 

    "Regarding the issue of weapons smuggling to Hamas, Hezbollah has never denied that it supports the resistance in Gaza," Amin said.

    "It sees it as a duty for all Arab countries to support Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups in Gaza in order to resist Israeli occupation. For Hezbollah, it would not be a shameful thing to smuggle money and weapons to Gaza."

    Cairo is keen to appear unwilling to condone money or aid reaching Hamas, which is engaged in a political battle with Palestinian Fatah, which has the support of Israel. 

    The Egyptian government is also concerned that any influence by Hamas in Egypt could provide a boost to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group.

    Both Hezbollah and Hamas receive support from Iran, which has not had full diplomatic relations with Cairo since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

    Neither group has so far responded to Egypt's accusations.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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